Books | Discussion | Love/Hate

Love/Hate: Stephen King

October 3, 2018

This may turn into a series that I want to dedicate to those problematic reads. In this case it’s more of a trend across multiple books so I’m going to say it has more to do with the author than the subject of the books. I felt like this was the perfect time to put this post together since Halloween is coming up and you can’t turn around without running into a reference to one of Stephen King’s stories. There’s a slew of his books that I could write about, but I’m going to focus on one that recently had a movie release (also it’ll keep the post from getting too long) and I’m wondering how they’re going to cover a specific scene that is in the book.

I love horror and I don’t scare easy so reading this book made me so happy. It is scary and unnerving. I was afraid for them and I attribute that to King’s writing ability. The scenes and creatures he describes are terrifying. He paints a horrific picture in It and I fell in love with his writing. I had previously read Cujo and Pet Sematary without understanding the allure of King. (Pet Sematary was good, I have similar issues with that book as I do with this one, but it wasn’t near the hype that surrounded Stephen King.) Unfortunately, there are a few prominent red flags.

The first one is the racist jokes. There is racism shown in the book through the bullies, but we’re not supposed to like them or excuse their behavior. Then there are the jokes that Richie makes that are just racist stereotypes. They’re supposed to be seen as funny which makes it a problem. Even worse is that the one black character, Mike, is used to “approve” the jokes and give Richie a pass. Richie makes these jokes as a child and as an adult, there’s no growth at all. I could accept that Richie was a stupid kid who didn’t know any better and realized how those jokes weren’t funny when he got older, but he still thinks they are hilarious as an adult.

The second one is particularly gruesome. The only girl in the group, Bev, has one purpose: to unite the group of boys through shared use of her body. That’s right, folks, her purpose in the book is to start a pre-teen orgy in the sewers. Her father already sexualizes the poor girl and then King reinforces it. It isn’t mentioned in passing, either, you get a whole thought out scene of these kids having sex. It’s really repulsive and I don’t hear enough people talking about why this is in here at all. It’s entirely unnecessary except that Bev had to have a “purpose.” And, it even made it past the editor and any beta readers – if any were involved at all.

Racism and misogyny are featured in pretty much every book I’ve read by King. Misery has the main character fantasizing about rape as punishment. Rose Madder‘s main character is a battered woman and scenes where she is alone are still written with an erotic tone after she gets away from her abuser. Bag of Bones begins with a misogynistic scene of the main character blaming his dead wife for arousing him (he saw an old picture of her in a bikini) and not being there to have sex. Even dead women aren’t exempt! These are characters we’re are supposed to get behind and root for!

Stephen King has written an insane amount of books, so I am hoping there are some that are free of these issues, but it’s in some of the more popular ones and I haven’t heard anyone mention them before.

Is this just a theme of his writing?

Anyone have any recommendations of Stephen King’s writing that has evolved away from these issues?

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  1. This is a really great consideration. I’m listening to the audiobook of It right now.
    As much as I agree about the misogyny, I’ve found that in other books, including Sleeping Beauties and The Outsider, he manages female characters a lot better.
    The racist jokes in It, however were written because of the era the book was written in. This is very much how I’m sure some people would have communicated with non-white, non-Christian people at the time which isn’t right, but it is an accurate portrayal of the time.
    I really enjoyed reading this!

    1. My main concern is that the black character approves of it and he does it in another short story as well. I believe the adult portion is in the 80s which they should know better by then. My mom would have been a teenager then, in super racist Illinois and she knew better. When they’re kids, that’s different.

      1. Yeah, I think as a child that’s because he thinks he should comply to stay in the group. As adults they should have known better though, I agree.

      2. That’s good to hear. I think the most recent book I have is Doctor Sleep, but I haven’t read it yet. It’s good to see an author grow.

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